The U.S. passed a grim milestone this week, and we’re not talking about COVID-19. 33-year-old Felycya Harris was found dead in Georgia earlier this week, and police are still searching for a suspect. Harris is now the 31st transgender or non-binary person to be killed in the country this year, making 2020 the deadliest year on record since the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) started tracking these statistics back in 2013.
With still three months to go until the end of the year, we’ve already seen dozens of innocent lives lost due to what the HRC sees as “a toxic mix of transphobia, racism and misogyny.” Transgender individuals are much more likely to be victims of fatal violence than cisgender individuals.
As HRC president Alphonso David commented, “This epidemic of violence, which is particularly impacting transgender women of color, must and can be stopped.”
Honoring Felycya Harris
Harris was known as a talented interior designer and dancer, spreading joy wherever she went. As her friend Ricola Collier remembers her, “That laugh…the smiles. The talks. The arguments. The attitudes. Everybody is going to remember who Felycya Harris is.”
Authorities found her unresponsive in Meadowbrook Park in Augusta, GA, suffering from a gunshot wound. She passed away later that day, and the medical examiner pronounced her death a homicide.
It’s not clear if Harris was targeted because of her race, gender identity, or some other reason. Georgia recently enacted a hate crime bill, one of the last states in the republic to do so, which automatically implements harsher punishment for those suspected of targeting individuals for protected characteristics such as their race or religion. However, the bill does not include gender identity as a protected characteristic, which means the suspects will likely not be charged with a hate crime.
Protecting Transgender Lives
According to statistics from the Human Rights Campaign, 2017 was previously considered the deadliest year on record for the trans community when 25 transgender people were murdered.
Now, 2020 has outpaced these figures. However, the HRC says accurately counting all the transgender people who have been lost to fatal violence can be difficult. Police officers, detectives, and the media often mischaracterize transgender or non-binary victims, classifying them as male or female.
That’s why the HRC is trying to raise awareness around these issues and the struggles transgender people experience on a regular basis, so providers, institutions, and police can better respond to their needs and protect them in various situations. The “Understanding the Transgender Community” does just that.
It talks about what it means to be transgender and how these individuals come from all backgrounds and religions. From television to PSAs, the transgender community is becoming more visible in American culture. Currently, the HRC estimates that three out of every ten adults in the U.S. personally knows someone who is trans.
These individuals experience specific issues that others don’t have to worry about, including legal protection under the law. A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision made it clear that trans people are legally protected from discrimination in the workplace, but there is still no comprehensive federal non-discrimination law that includes gender identity. This means trans people may still lack recourse if they face discrimination when seeking housing, healthcare, employment or even dining in a restaurant.
The current poverty rate in the U.S. is between 11.3-11.8%, but around 29% of trans adults live in poverty. The numbers are even higher for black and Latinx trans adults. Many individuals get rejected by their friends, family, and loved ones after revealing their gender identity, which increases the rate of homelessness, addiction, anxiety, and depression. For example, only 30% of women’s shelters are willing to house trans women.
When it comes to violence against trans people, 54% of these individuals have experienced some form of intimate partner violence, 47% have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime, and nearly one in ten were physically assaulted between 2014 and 2015.
They can also face barriers when accessing healthcare. According to the HRC, 22% of trans people and 32% of trans people of color have no health insurance coverage, and 29% have been refused healthcare by a doctor or provider because of their gender identity.
Could you imagine being turned away from your loved ones, not being granted basic legal protections, or being turned away from a doctor or facility simply because of your gender identity? We all need to spend more time learning about these issues, so we can prevent tragic incidents like the one mentioned above.
One life lost is one too many.